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What is so wonderful about the status quo?

I mean, we’ve all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But, what if “it” (whatever “it” is) ain’t broke, rather what if “it” is ineffective, or inefficient. Said differently, what if “it” isn’t the best way?  

I’ll bet we all know someone who hates – I mean HATES change. You know who I’m talking about, that person who is so reluctant to change he/she has a nearly violent reaction when required to do something other than his/her status quo.

I don’t get it. I am not one of those people.

At least I thought I wasn’t until the other day…

The other day, my wife and I had a rare day together – just the two of us. The girls were in school and I was off work; she and I had all day together. (Woo hoo!) So, we decided to drive into the city for a day at the Dallas Museum of Art. It was a wonderful day – and the museum was fantastic! (Gotta love free admission!)

Smiling Pot

Doesn’t this guy look happy?

Hangin' with a pharaoh

The two of us hangin’ with a pharaoh!

But… that’s a story for another post.

The important (and glorious) part is that we had an hour or so in the car to talk. And, not once did we have to entertain the question, “Are we there yet?” It was majestic. Again, I digress.

As we dodged traffic down I-35, we started talking about “the problems with this generation” (admit it, we’re not the only ones to have this conversation). As usual, we came back to the “problem” of instant gratification and how it must be tied to the need to be plugged into an electronic device – constantly.

Our kids sure think they need their daily screen time. We frequently (and by that I mean nearly constantly) enter into the following dialogue:

Kid: “Mom/Dad, can I get out my tablet? *using angelic-sweet voice* Please.”

Mom/Dad: “Isn’t there something else you could be doing? How about reading a book?”

K: (More whiny than sweet) “Pleeese! I haven’t been on it all day!”

M/D: “No, but you’ve been watching TV for two hours and it’s only nine o’clock in the morning.”

K: (Becoming indignant) “You never let me have my tablet! I don’t know why I even have one! Hmph!” *stomps off*

M/D: (Fighting blind rage) *sees red* *determines later punishment* *bites tongue*

For those of us who didn’t grow up with portable electronics, this is a tough thing to understand. What’s so important about “screen time” anyway?

I’m dating myself here, but “screen time” wasn’t even a term when I was growing up. Heck, I was probably in high school before we got a TV with a remote control – not that there was much use for it, we only had three channels.

No, I’m not exaggerating. There was a point during elementary school when we lived in the city and had [basic] cable, but from age 11 through college, we lived in the woods and didn’t have access to cable. I think I was in college before my parents got PrimeStar (yep, that was waaay back when; the wheel was still considered a fad). We did have a Nintendo Entertainment System, though – and it was glorious! Oh, and we had a rotary dial phone. (One of these days, I’ll have to tell you a funny story about one of my fraternity brothers and that phone.)

I must have grown up in the dark ages. For those of us who are still around from way back then, we can remember that if we wanted to know something we had to look it up – in a book.

My parents cared about the education their children would have, so they invested in a set of encyclopedias. They bought them even before I was born. The funny thing was that even when I was in high school, not one of my teachers, or anyone for that matter, thought anything about me using the information in these 20-year-old books when doing a research paper.

The information came from an encyclopedia, therefore, it was both accurate and timeless. Oh, except for the information about East and West Berlin, that needed to be updated. What about some of the countries in Africa or South America that now had different names, and governments, than they did 20 years ago? Well, for that kind of information, we would have to find time (and a ride) to go to the library, and look through the card catalog to find the most up-to-date book on the subject we wanted – and even that information was likely to be a couple of years old, at the most recent.

Now, via the device in my hand, which also serves as a phone (that I don’t have to dial), I have access to real-time information about the things in this world that are changing. Information that is written, photographed and even live-streamed by people in the middle of it. That is soooo much more interesting than a dusty old encyclopedia that smelled like, um, well… oh just go find one and take a whiff, they all smell the same.

The information is fresher, more relevant, more convenient and instantaneous. Well, that is attractive.

Real-life, real-time story. As I write this, I’m sitting at Gate 8 in Love Field waiting to fly up to see family on Thanksgiving. I paused to look around and I see a familiar face across the terminal. Where do I know her from? 

Wait! Is it?

No. It can’t be.

She’s by herself. It can’t be her, right?

So, I grab my phone and Google pictures of Madeleine Albright. I’m still not convinced, so I find her Twitter account, and find a pinned tweet with a Time article and a photo of her in January of this year. No. I don’t think the lady at Gate 6 is Madam Secretary – but she would make a very convincing stunt double.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with kids these days: They’re hungry for information. And they want that information to be not just accurate, but the most accurate up-to-this-minute. That sounds more admirable than wrong. In fact, it’s not just “kids” that want this. I want this. My professors and classmates in business school wanted (and I assume still want) this.

More importantly, as quickly as the world changes: We all NEED this.

(Sidebar: Here’s a chicken/egg discussion to have among yourselves – Do we need instant access to information because the world changes so quickly, or does the world change so quickly because we have instant access to information? Please remain quietly in your seats for the remainder of this article, then discuss at the end.)

Anyway, back to the discussion my wife and I were having in the car. What if our reluctance to change is actually holding us back? Our older daughter is in a public elementary school, so we frequently have discussions about the differences between what is being taught now vs what we were taught. We were indignant when we found out this school was no longer teaching cursive writing. Nevermind that this was, by far, my least favorite subject. I HATED learning cursive. Hated it. I will forever be scarred by the endless hours spent in second grade writing and practicing and writing some more – Miss Purcell was relentless.  

My wife contends that learning cursive is developmentally beneficial. I haven’t gone out of my way to locate the studies she cited, after all, she’s my wife and I trust that she is giving me good information. So, for the sake of argument, I’ll just go with it.

Learning cursive is beneficial to a child’s development.

Fine.

What if there is an app that is both more developmentally beneficial and more fun for children to use? (Let’s face it, there’s not a lot that is less fun than learning cursive. Sorry, Miss Purcell.)

Knowing me as well as I do, I’m inclined to think that if I saw a study that showed a certain app (which would probably present itself as a game) was, in fact, more beneficial to a child’s development than learning, I would look for information to discredit that study, in favor of what I’m more familiar with – cursive writing. I would also be less likely to look for any information on the developmental benefits of cursive writing – like I just said, I learned cursive writing and turned out OK, and my wife said she read somewhere about the benefits.

That’s good enough for me.

But is it, ultimately, good enough for my kids? After all, I do want the best for them. And, I don’t really want them to endure the hours of monotony that is learning to write in cursive. So, why is my confirmation bias standing in the way of my child’s education?

In what other ways are my views – and your views, too – clouded by confirmation bias and an unwillingness to change?

My guess is that our views are more clouded than we know.

How much of each of our businesses runs on old technology? From paper files to fax machines to software we paid so much for in the 1990’s that we can’t imagine getting rid of it, our lives are cluttered with things that we can’t bear to change.

What if there is a better way? Are you willing to set aside your biases and admit that maybe the way it’s always been is not necessarily the way it should be?

You may be better off for it.

Let me know what you decide.

I could end the post there. And maybe I will. Maybe I am going to get a little too controversial. Maybe I’m going to step on too many toes.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

As I think back to that old, smelly set of encyclopedias, I remember seeing an artist’s rendition of a revolutionary war-era battle. Columns of red-clad soldiers lined up row after row after row to take on columns of blue-clad soldiers lined up row after row after row across an empty meadow.

Even as a child, I thought that was a stupid way to fight a war. When my friends and I played army in the back yard, we were always hiding behind something, thinking of new ways to trick our imaginary enemies. Granted, General Cornwallis had a lot more military expereince than I do (I have none), but even a kid could see that lining up a thousand guys with guns to shoot a thousand guys with guns is a great way to get a couple thousand guys killed – especially  because their guns only held one round. This was victory by attrition.

Advance a few score of years and you find more trench and guerilla warfare. I’m sure this was initially considered despicable. After all, General Corwallis and General Washington were men of honor, and both sides saw honor in lining up their men to die. Seems crazy now, but that’s probably because we don’t understand the thought processes they had in the Good Old Days.

We have entered into a new era of warfare where the current ways are becoming (and may have become) the old ways. Terrorism is the new warfare. We are in a world war, because the entire world can become a battlefield at any given time. We are not fighting a war over land, we are in a war over ideology. The war is in the minds of its aggressors. The war is in the ether, so it is everywhere. All the time.  

Unfortunately, this change is not something we can simply ignore.

We can’t answer the terrorists like I answer my kids.

There is no room for, “No, you can’t bomb us right now. Can’t you just read a book? Or, maybe, just line your guys up in that meadow over there while I line up my guys?”

This is a new genre of warfare. Much like the Internet and mobile devices bring information directly to people where they are, without requiring people to go out of their way to get access, this new genre of warfare is bringing the battlefields of war directly to the people.

    Wherever they are.

         All of a sudden.

              When we least expect it.  

*BLAM!*

Now is the part where I usually offer up a well-considered solution to the problem. Therein lies another problem: I don’t have a solution. But, like the war, the solution is in the minds of its creators.

It, too, is in the ether.

We just need to discover it.

Immediately.

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